The lady who works in the grocery store at the corner of my block is called Denise, and she's one of America's great unpublished novelists. Over the years she's written forty-two romantic novels, none of which have ever reached the bookstores. I, however, have been fortunate enough to hear the plots of the last twenty-seven of these recounted in installments by the authoress herself every time I drop by the store for a jar of coffee or can of beans, and my respect for Denise's literary prowess knows no bounds. So, naturally enough, when I found myself faced with the daunting task of actually starting the book you now hold in your hands, it was Denise I turned to for advice.
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I always start drawing any job by planning out to some degree the locales and trying to nail the characters. If they're existing characters, I'll draw them several times on rough paper just to get a feeling for them. The ideal when you're drawing a comic is to have everything in your head, not to have to refer to notes.
I came to think that nobody from England could draw American comic books, because they were clearly all done by this sort of Mafia, all these guys with Italian and Irish names who had the whole thing sewn up. It was actually seeing a comic book drawn by Barry Smith, who was about my age, and English.
When I first came to New York City, what I was thrilled about was not the Empire State Building, or the Statue of Liberty; it was the fireplugs in the street. These things that Jack Kirby had drawn. Or these cylindrical water towers on top of buildings that Steve Ditko's 'Spider-Man' fights used to happen in and around.
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When you're drawing something, you kind of run a movie in your head. You might close your eyes or stare into the distance and kind of see a movie unfolding and, you know, grab a certain moment or think, 'Oh, yeah, that's when we need just the point that he appears around the corner but just as she's getting into the car,' you know?
To my mind, the most successful and the best comic book illustrators are those who translate the real world into a consistent code. If you look at Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko, their drawings look nothing like the real world, but they are internally consistent. In terms of a comic book it can work just fine.
One of the things when you're drawing a comic book is that you're spending four or five times as long to draw it as the writer takes to write it. In my career I've had to spend a week drawing something that a writer has thrown out in an hour. And there's nothing worse than having to work on something that no previous thought has gone into.
I think readers are always patient. Look at the 'Harry Potter' series. Some have given up on this generation of kids as game and TV addicts, but lots of people spend lots of time patiently reading through hundreds of pages of dense prose. I think reading a comic by comparison is a lot more immediate.
I think probably the first time I wanted to be an artist was when I was about six or seven years old. I used to get British comics and I clearly remember seeing my first American comic: an issue of 'Action Comics', with Superman on the cover with a treasure horde in a cave, and Lois saying something like 'I don't believe Superman is a miser!'
There are people who specialise in lettering, and I've had my hand lettering made into a digital font. I picked up a copy of the 'Dandy' the other week, and I was amazed to see that it was completely lettered in my hand-lettering font. It was quite a thrill, really, having been a 'Dandy' reader years and years ago.